Spending priorities out of whack: Kasey Reynolds calling for a Downtown parking study on behalf of parklets, while admitting Downtown sewer pipes have not been replaced since 1908

11 Nov

It looks like people are following the parklets discussion so I’ll continue – I actually do have a point to make, I just keep coming to other points on the way. There are so many things about this Downtown Remodel that piss me off I’m having a problem putting my finger on the core issue – spending taxpayer money to prop up floundering businesses just because they’re located Downtown? My street isn’t getting fixed? City screaming poormouth-needs-a-tax while spending money on trendy fads? You pick one.

Yesterday I think I hit it – the sewer pipes Downtown are from 1908, and they’re talking about spending $275,000+ on a parking study. They want to twist the study to show that there is actually more than enough parking Downtown, so they should be able to eliminate more parking spaces to provide parklets for Downtown restaurants and bars.

Downtown streets and sidewalks have gone unmaintained for decades – eons! – while the city has gone about making cosmetic changes that have nothing to do with infrastructure. Yes, Downtown sewer pipes – and water pipes! – date back to the turn of the century, as do sidewalks. Over a hundred years of non-maintenance finally came home to roost in 2013 when popular Downtown sandwich shop Kona’s was summarily closed because the sidewalk in front of the door collapsed.

The business remained closed for two weeks, and then only partially open, while city management postured and flustered and tried to deny responsibility for the problem, even while admitting that sidewalks are city property. The building owner had to pay for fencing to close the sidewalkto prevent passersby from falling in the hole. In April, they were still arguing about who should pay.

The cause was found to be the collapse of an underground brick supporting wall, due to saturation from the adjacent gutter and the watering of street trees. That indicates years of negligence – you know they haven’t used brick supporting walls since horse and buggy days. Just think about that the next time you are walking along a city sidewalk, tripping over concrete shoved up by trees – you gotta wonder what’s going on under the sidewalk too!

Here’s the thing – Kona’s was also a bakery, they supplied bread for sandwich shops all over town, including my standard, Chico Locker. But City of Chico manager, Brian Nakamura, refused to pay for repairs, arguing that the building owner had the liability. Reminder – current city manager Mark Sorensen was on council at the time. When local outrage finally reached a peak, the repairs were made, but I don’t know who finally paid for it.

One thing I know – Kona’s is located on Nord now. Is this why, as Kasey Reynolds noted at Monday’s IA meeting,  “we have a lot of empty buildings Downtown right now…” ? The city is an onerous overlord, charging special fees to locate Downtown, but not necessarily providing the corresponding service.

Another business that left Downtown corridor is Sports Ltd. Owner Matt Smith complained there is not enough parking Downtown, and I’ll agree. I’ll never forget shopping there when we were a young family – we needed bikes for the kids, a cargo box for our car, and other gear. We wanted to Support Local Business! Here’s how it went – we’d park where we could, buy what we needed, and then Matt would stand out on the busy sidewalk with me and my kids and the stuff while my husband went to get the car. That’s okay for young people, I guess, but we sure were glad when the store moved to Safeway Plaza on Mangrove, where we can always find a parking space within sight, no crossing streets with hands full of packages, towing tots by the hand.

Downtown is going through a lot of changes, always trying to stay viable. But over the years, stores like Sports LTD have disappeared, replaced by spendy restaurants, bars – “a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot!“. Downtown does not serve the general population, and the general population should not be on the hook for upgrading these businesses.

The Internal Affairs committee forwarded staff’s recommendation that the $275,000 in American Rescue Planning that has not yet been spent on parklet designs go to a parking study. Staff says this study will be conducted with license plate tracking equipment already on hand, so I’m not how much it will actually cost. Chair Kasey Reynolds seems determined that this study will show the need for ANOTHER parking structure, which will loosen up those pesky street spaces for parklets.

Reynolds sees cars as a problem Downtown, opining that Chicoans have “gotten comfortable driving right up to the front door of a business…” She seems to forget the constant break-ins reported in the existing Downtown parking structure, calling for all of us to chip in on another structure.

Here’s an interesting note – the parking lots at the mall generate property taxes, which are paid by the private property owners. Same for big grocery store owners and Walmart. These shopping centers provide not only free parking but security service. Shopping centers provide a variety of businesses, and drive up convenience. I don’t think council is thinking straight on this one. And as usual, they expect us to foot the bill for their brain farts.

So, excuse me, I don’t see the parking study as important, I think the money should go to audit Downtown sewer and water infrastructure, and the FIX IT. All of it. No more parklets or fancy garbage cans until we get down to the meat and bones of our city. Stop studying and START FIXING!

POST SCRIPT: After I finished this post, my husband reminded me of this recent “mishap”

– a local eatery’s sewer pipe had been mistakenly hooked up to the storm drain, creating a “sewage pond”, and the city inspector didn’t catch that during the cursory inspection? A college class found it during a stream survey. Our town has a serious problem, and it’s gone on for years, because we’ve allowed it. Wake up Chico, before you’re up to your forehead in shit!

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